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‘Biggest Act of Civil Disobedience in Canadian History’ May 23, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Education, Quebec.
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Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

Marchers defy Bill 78; Neighborhoods fill with sound of banging pots and pans

- Common Dreams staff

“The single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”

That’s how yesterday’s Montreal protest is being described today. Hundreds of thousands red-shirted demonstrators defied Quebec’s new “anti-protest” law and marched through the streets of downtown Montreal filling the city with “rivers of red.”

Tuesday marked the 100th day of the growing student protests against austerity measures and tuition increases. In response to the spreading protests, the conservative Charest government passed a new “emergency” law last Friday – Bill 78.

Since Bill 78 passed, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.Bill 78 mandates:

  • Fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution or who participate in an illegal demonstration.
  • Penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for protest leaders and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.
  • All fines DOUBLE for repeat offenders
  • Public demonstrations involving more than 50 people have to be flagged to authorities eight hours in advance, include itinerary, duration and time at which they are being held. The police may alter any of these elements and non-compliance would render the protest illegal.
  • Offering encouragement for someone to protest at a school, either tacitly or otherwise, is subject to punishment. The Minister of Education has said that this would include things like ‘tweeting’, ‘facebooking’, and has she has implied that wearing the student protest insignia (a red flag-pin) could also be subject to punishment.
  • No demonstration can be held within 50 meters of any school campus

Bill 78 not only “enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers.” Since the law passed Friday, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.

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The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) reports:

CLASSE spearheaded Tuesday’s march, aided by Quebec’s largest labor federations. The province’s two other main student groups, FEUQ and FECQ, also rallied their supporters.

CLASSE said Monday it would direct members to defy Bill 78, Quebec’s emergency legislation.

The special law was adopted last Friday, suspending the winter semester and imposing strict limits on student protests. Organizers have to submit their itinerary to authorities in advance, or face heavy fines.

CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the special legislation goes beyond students and their tuition-hike conflict.

“We want to make the point that there are tens of thousands of citizens who are against this law who think that protesting without asking for a permit is a fundamental right,” he said, walking side by side with other protesters behind a large purple banner.

“If the government wants to apply its law, it will have a lot of work to do. That is part of the objective of the protest today, to underline the fact that this law is absurd and inapplicable.”

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The Montreal Gazette reports:

A protest organizers described as the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history choked the streets of downtown Montreal in the middle of Tuesday’s afternoon rush hour as tens of thousands of demonstrators expressed outrage over a provincial law aimed at containing the very sort of march they staged.

Ostensibly Tuesday’s march was to commemorate the 100th day of a strike by Quebec college and university students over the issue of tuition increases. But a decision last Friday by the Charest government to pass Bill 78 – emergency legislation requiring protest organizers to provide police with an itinerary of their march eight hours in advance – not only enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers into marching through the streets of a city that has seen protests staged here nightly for the past seven weeks.

“I didn’t really have a stand when it came to the tuition hikes,” said Montrealer Gilles Marcotte, a 32-year-old office worker who used a vacation day to attend the event. “But when I saw what the law does, not just to students but to everybody, I felt I had to do something. This is all going too far.”

Tuesday’s march was billed as being two demonstrations taking place at the same time. One, organized by the federations representing Quebec college and university students and attended by contingents from the province’s labor movement, abided by the provisions of the law and provided a route. The other, overseen by CLASSE, an umbrella group of students associations, deliberately did not.

By 3: 30 p.m., a little more than 90 minutes after the marches began to snake their way through downtown, CLASSE, which estimated the crowd at 250,000, described the march as “the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”

Other crowd estimates varied between 75,000 and 150,000 protesters. Montreal police do not give official crowd estimates but the Place des festivals, which demonstrators easily filled before the march began, holds roughly 100,000 people.

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Sea of red as hundreds of thousands protest Quebec’s austerity cuts and new anti-protest law, May 22, 2012. (Photo by @philmphoto on instagram)

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The Canadian Press reports:

[...] Shortly before the evening demonstration commenced, supporters in central Montreal districts came out onto their balconies and in front of their homes to bang pots and pans in a seeming call-to-arms.

As well, the powerful Montreal transit union also gave protesters a boost when it called on its members to avoid driving police squads around on city buses during the crowd control operations. Montreal police have for several years used city buses as well as their cruisers to shuttle riot squad officers around to demonstration hotspots and as places to detain prisoners. [...]

The daytime march was considered to be one of the biggest protests held in the city and related events were held in New York, Paris, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. [...]

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for the hardline CLASSE group, described Tuesday’s march as a historic act of civil disobedience and said he was ready to face any legal consequences.

“So personally I will be ready

Quebec Students Ignite the Popular Imagination May 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, Quebec.
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By Stefan Christoff, rabble.ca | Report

Thursday, 03 May 2012 09:32

(Photo: Robin Dumont / Flickr)

Vibrant nightly protests over the past week in downtown Montréal, in solidarity with the Quebec student strike, are sparking global attention. As the Quebec-wide strike continues – it has now been going for over 11 weeks – a new energy is apparent in the city.

All across the city spotting the symbolic red square patches is easy; on any city bus or métro car patches are proudly pinned on jackets or backpacks.

Despite repeated incidents of police brutality, strikingly hostile mainstream media coverage and a sustained refusal by the Quebec Liberal government to negotiate in good faith, popular support and energy toward the strike is growing. Beyond surveys, or poll numbers, the Quebec student strike is historic in nature, a sustained mass protest movement creating political space to debate not only rising tuition fees but also fundamental questions of social justice.

A clear shift is occurring on the streets, as protests are now expanding to highlight environmental justice and the growing economic inequities in Quebec at a time of austerity-driven economics.

Today in Quebec the earning gap between the wealthy and the rest sits at a 30-year high, according to a recent study by Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economiques. Economic injustice in Quebec is increasingly a focus of student protests and the upcoming May Day protests will illuminate points of unity between striking students and larger social movements on the streets.

Last week Aveos airline maintenance workers in Montréal, fired last month without due process, joined with striking students in a morning protest outside a shareholders meeting of Air Canada in downtown Montreal. On the streets, la Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a major union federation in Québec with a history of strong links to grassroots activism, has consistently joined striking students on the street.

In Québec the student strike is igniting the popular imagination.

Recent night protests have been starting at Émilie-Gamelin square, close to Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), taking to the streets for hours on end, as many join the protests spontaneously as the protest weaves throughout downtown Montreal districts. As the night protest moves the size grows, tens of thousands marching in the cool spring air, waving red flags in the rain. The student strike is crossing many political barriers at a rapid speed and turning into a social movement.

Despite the growing protests, the movement does face incredible challenges, beyond just the usual cynical commentators across the mainstream media in Quebec and Canada.

Police repression has at times been extreme, with hundreds of students arrested and disturbing physical violence by police toward the protest movement. On the streets police often launch flash bang grenades. To take just one example, last week in Montreal one of these grenades exploded over a night demonstration, unleashing toxic CS gas on the protest.

Montreal police use the flash bang weapon, made by Defense Technologies, a subsidiary of the world’s second largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, despite the obvious danger to student protesters. Striking student Francis Grenier suffered a serious eye injury in early March due to an explosion close to the eye while playing harmonica and is still recovering.

Unity within the student movement is another major challenge, the more institutional Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) are consistently facing divide and conquer offers by the Québec government pushing to exclude the protest-driven Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) from any negotiations. Despite a history of division in previous student mobilizations, the major student unions today are remaining strongly united in this mobilization to halt tuition hikes in Quebec.

Calls for a broader social strike, an effort to transfer the energy of student protests into larger struggles for social justice is strongly backed by CLASSE, a network of student unions that supports direct action and openly rejects the capitalist economic system.

Over recent years CLASSE has actively supported anti-poverty struggles in Quebec and international solidarity campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestine.

Protests will continue in Quebec over the next days, from May Day to the upcoming Liberal Party general council meeting, scheduled to take place later this week. The Liberals have in fact announced they are moving their meeting from Montreal to Victoriaville, due to fears of mass protest.

As the momentum of the Quebec student strike continues to grow, with nearly 180 000 students remaining on strike, many open questions ring out beyond Québec.

Can the Quebec student movement, clearly a collective struggle against austerity-driven economics, spark or inspire broader mass struggles for social justice in Canada?

Stefan Christoff

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, musician and community activist who contributes to rabble.ca. You can find Stefan at http://www.twitter.com/spirodon/

 
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